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Pronounced: /ʔukanaʔakau/
Timeline and Universe: nonspecific
Species: Human
Spoken: nonspecific
Total speakers: unknown
Writing system: Own
Genealogy: None
Morphological type: Isolating
Morphosyntactic alignment: Accusative-Dative
Basic word order: (T)VAP(R)(L)
Creator: Sectori
Created: February 2006
revised March 2008

'Ukana'akau was created by Sectori on the ZBB as part of Neek's Minimal Phonology Challenge in February 2006. It was revised in March 2008. Relevant linguistic information: the speakers of 'Ukana'akau are called the 'Akau. 'Ukana'akau is topic-marking, almost completely isolating, and accusative-dative (see below for more information).


'Ukana'akau has a fairly simple phonology.

Phoneme Inventory

The nine phonemes of the challenge were /p t k s n ʔ a i u/, romanized as <p t k s n ' a i u>. Additionally, there is a fourth "grammatical vowel", transcribed <v>, which is covered in more detail in the section on nominal morphology. When it is necessary to pronounce <v>, it is pronounced as a schwa /ǝ/.


'Ukana'akau's original syllable structure was (C)(')V (with '' not permitted), but C' clusters have since been reanalyzed as glottalized consonants /p_ʔ t_ʔ k_ʔ s_ʔ n_ʔ/, leaving the structure (C)V.


Vowel clusters, which technically constitute multiple syllables, are generally realized as diphthongs or triphthongs.


Stress falls regularly on the penultimate syllable. Monosyllabic words are usually stressed. In polysyllabic words which have one or more glottalized consonants, stress usually falls on vowel after the first glottalized consonant. Particles, such as iki and tv are never stressed.


The most common consonants are <t k>, with <s p> being the rarest. Few words have more than three syllables; those that do are usually compounds of smaller words. The name of the language, itself is a compound of the words 'ukana language (an archaic stative form of kinu speak) and 'Akau, the autonym of the speakers of 'Ukana'akau.

Nominal Morphology

A note at the beginning: any time the word "noun" appears in this section, it can be freely replaced with "pronoun," which is to say they are treated the same. A variety of preposed particles are used with nouns.

  • kv is the topic-marking particle
  • tv is the object-marking particle
  • pv is the location/motion-marking particle
  • sv is the vocative particle
  • 'v is the generic plural-marking particle

When a plural needs to be marked on any particle other than 'v, the initial consonant becomes glottalized, i.e. k'v, t'v, p'v, s'v.


The topic-marking particle defaults to being placed before the subject/agent of the sentence, i.e.

k'aki k'a ta'aka tu nu'au
create TOP.PL god OBJ.SG world
the gods create the world

where k'a marks ta'aka gods as the topic/agent. If further emphasis is desired, or if another nominal or pronominal constituent is be topic marked, the topic is fronted and an anaphoric particle is left in its place (the marker for the fronted constituent), for example

ku nu'au k'aki ('a) ta'aka tu
TOP.SG world create (PL) god OBJ.SG
the world, the gods create it

The topic can also act as an introductory phrase, i.e. as for the world, the gods created it. The anaphoric pronoun is the particle that was in the original sentence.


The object-marking particle marks the direct object/patient by default, and is used in several compound expressions, e.g. tua tv (marks the recipient or beneficiary). When an object has already been stated, rather than restate it or use a third person pronoun, the object particle is used as an anaphoric device. For example,

'i t'asa ku ti'u ta 'i-t'asa tua ti ka'i; 'i t'asa ka'i ta tua ta pu'a
you gave the gift to me; I gave it to him

where ta in the second clause shows that 'i-t'asa gift is still the object.


The location-marking particle marks, unsurprisingly, location, after the generic relation-markers ni (in, at, on), na (to, at, towards), and nu (from, out of, away from). Locatives have their own place in the sentence, appearing after the Receiver argument but before any clause-final particles. A locational expression can be used as a verb by placing the stative particle a'u before it and moving it to the front of the clause. In such a case, it can take the same particles as any verb, except a locational adverb. For example:

a'u 'i ni pu Sa'aku ki ka'i
I was in Sa'aku


The vocative particle marks direct address, e.g.

su K'uanu, ka uka ini n'a
K'uanu, come hither


The separate plural-marker 'v is optional in most cases. It is usually only used in cases where context cannot distinguish number. It is only used on unmarked subjects/agents (i.e. the subjects/agents of clauses where the topic has been fronted).


Possessive relationships are shown by placing the possessor after the possessee, e.g.

ta'aka ka'i
god 1P
my god

Verbal Morphology

Verbs also take particles to show a number of things, as well as being able to be modified by adverbs. In the order they appear in a sentence: there is a particle marking a verb as irrealis (realis is unmarked), particles marking a verb as imperfective or stative (perfective is unmarked), a particle marking the past the past tense (non-past is unmarked), and a variety of particles (the list is incomplete) marking mode and evidentiality. The mood, aspect, and tense particles, as well as adverbs, come before the verb, while the mode and evidentiality markers are clause final. Finally, there are some special nominal constructions that affect the verb.


The irrealis particle is iki. It is used with the nonpast to show doubt, hope, or possibility, and with the past to show a contrafactual. With the clause-initial particle kiu, the irrealis sets up a condition which can have several different translations depending on a number of factors. The past irrealis sets up a contrafactual (if I had done...[and I didn't]; if I should do...[and I may or may not]) or hypothetical condition, and the nonpast sets up a standard condition (if I did...[and I did]; if I do...[and I will/have]). The tense of the realis determines whether the entire conditional is past (...then I would have done...) or nonpast (...then I will do...). (The parentheticals are just examples of some conditional openings and conclusions.)


Ukana'akau distinguishes three aspects: perfective, imperfective, and stative.

  • The perfective aspect is the default unmarked aspect.
  • The imperfective aspect is marked by the particle a'i.
  • The stative is marked by the particle a'u.

The perfective aspect shows that an action was/is/will be completed. The imperfective shows that the action was not/is not/will not be completed, or is habitual. The stative, like the perfect in English, shows a state resulting from a past action. The stative is also used to from stative verbs from adjectives and to turn verbs into a "participial/gerundive" form that can act as an adjective or a noun, e.g. a'u t'asa giving. These derived forms function identically to other nouns. When they are used with topic, object, etc. particles, the particle agrees with the final vowel of the verb, e.g. ka a'u t'asa.


Following aspect markers come adverbs. Adverbs fall into several categories. First, there is the negative marker nui. In a sequence of adverbs, this always comes first, and marks that the verb is negative. Second come temporal markers such as 'iaki yesterday and nuaki tomorrow. Third come adverbs derived from adjectives with the particle sua.


Ukana'akau verbs distinguish two tenses, past and non-past. The non-past is unmarked; the past tense marker is 'i. It shows that the verb describes a past action, e.g. 'i kinu ka'i I spoke.

Preverbal Particles

So, the final order of preverbal particles: irrealis - aspect - negative - temporal - adverb - locative - past

Clause-Final Particles

A number of particles are clause-final, acting somewhat like English modal verbs.

  • ua is the permissive particle, either asking, granting, or withholding permission from someone.
  • ita is the dubitative particle, showing doubt on behalf of the speaker.
  • pau marks the sentence as hearsay: the speaker has yet to confirm what he or she has heard.
  • kui marks the sentence as fact that the speaker has confirmed and believes to be true.
  • anu is the potential particle, i.e. "able to" or "can".

Marking evidentiality with pau or kui is not obligatory, but can clarify the meaning of a sentence in some contexts. More of these particles are yet to come.


The causative works by adding a second agent argument A2. The second agent is marked by the particle is'a ('v) and is generally fronted, e.g.

is'a 'u 'Akau 'i k'aki ki ka'i tu nu'au
CAUS PL 'Akau PAST create TOP.SG 1P OBJ.SG world
the 'Akau made me create the world

If a topic other than the subject of the main verb is fronted, A2 moves to clause-final position, although it always precedes the receiver argument, if there is one.

ku nu'au 'i k'aki ka'i tu is'a ('u) 'Akau
TOP.SG world PAST create 1P OBJ.SG CAUS (PL) 'Akau
as for the world, the 'Akau made me create it


The passive, marked by the particle atu, reverses A and P. The order of constituents changes from VAP to VP atu A. P is marked as the topic and A is unmarked, except for plurality. For example:

'i k'aki ku nu'au atu ('u) 'Akau
PAST create TOP.SG world PASS (PL) 'Akau
the world was created by the 'Akau

This usage is just an inverse, switching the emphasis from the agent to the patient. The passive can be translated with the English passive, but in reality it's usually just a less emphatic way of changing the topic. Topic-fronting is more common when specific emphasis is necessary, especially when changing the focus for the first time, but the passive is used in subsequent cases when the extra emphasis would be out of place.

However, the A argument can also be dropped, in which case a topic-marker is left in its place, a more prototypical passive than the general usage. This is one of a very few times that more than one topic-marker may appear in a clause.

'i k'aki ku nu'au atu k'u
PAST create TOP.SG world PASS TOP.PL
the world was created by them


The imperative takes no preverbal particles and is usually preceded by a vocative expression. There are to ways of forming the imperative. The first replaces the subject/agent (the person commanded) with the particle uka. Uka is always topic-marked and fronted. No anaphoric particle is left in its place. If the person commanded is singular, uka is treated is singular; if plural, plural.

su ti'u, ka uka k'aki tu nu'au
VOC.SG 2P TOP.SG IMP create OBJ.SG world
you, create the world

The second replaces the subject/agent with a dummy subject marker ku (or k'u if a group is commanded).

s'u ti'u, k'aki k'u tu nu'au
VOC.PL 2P create TOP.PL OBJ.SG world
you (all), create the world


Existentials are formed with the stative expression a'u n'i. N'i is a pronominal/adverbial particle meaning here, there. This expression is treated as a verb in all respects, including fronting and taking particles. If clarification as to the location is needed, a further locative expression can be used, e.g.

a'u 'i ni pu Sa'aku n'i ka ta'aka
there was a god in Sa'aku

Impersonal Expressions

Impersonal expressions are formed with the ubiquitous stative particle a'u and an anaphoric topic ka. Like the passive, if another topic is to be fronted, the extra topic marker remains. An impersonal sentence may be translated in a number of ways depending on context.

k'u nu'au a'u n'i k'aki ka
worlds are created there
"they" create worlds there
a'u n'i kinu ka tu 'Ukana'akau
STAT LOCADV speak TOP.SG OBJ.SG 'Ukana'akau
"they" speak 'Ukana'akau there
'Ukana'akau is spoken there

It can also express, to a certain degree, ability, e.g. they can speak 'Ukana'akau there.


Adjectives, such as puia red, always follow the noun they modify, e.g.

'i-t'asa puia
gift red
red gift

Stative Verbs

However, if the adjective is really a stative verb, the stative phrase follows the noun modified, e.g.

ka 'i-t'asa a'u t'asa
TOP.SG gift STAT give
the given gift
the gift that is given

As Verbs

An adjective may be used as a stative verb, e.g. be red. In such cases it acts as a verb in all respects, including taking verbal particles and moving to the front of the clause. Such adjectives always take the stative particle a'u:

a'u 'i puia ku 'Akau
the 'Akau was red


An adjective can be changed into an adverb with the particle sua. Adverbs (formed with sua or otherwise) can be used to modify adjectives. In such cases, the adverb follows the noun it modifies.

ka ta'aka puia nui
TOP.SG god red not
the not red god